We’re now back together, so it seems. We are sexually active, text each other daily, and he tells me he loves me. The only thing that is different is he does not want his friends, parents, or anyone to know that we are back together. I asked him why and he claims he needs no labels and to be out of a relationship for now because he needs to find himself first. Every now and then he tells me he is not happy and tries to re-break up with me, but then decides not to and tells me he’s just confused. He is also covering his phone up constantly and acts as if it cannot be anywhere near me. It was never like that when we were official. I know things were said in our break up, but if he wants me, why is he ashamed to tell his friends? Or is he keeping his options open? He won’t even tell his parents, and he sneaks around to see me. This hurts me more than anything and I need help on what to do. — Good Enough for Him?
You may be only seventeen, but this issue you’re having — this feeling like the person you love doesn’t love you back in the same way or doesn’t want the same relationship you want or doesn’t feel as proud to be with you as he should if he loves you — is an issue that plagues people — men, women, everyone — at all ages, all the time. I promise you, there are people reading your letter and nodding along because it resonates with them and they’re 22, 29, 34, 43, and up. And this is because the lesson here isn’t one that we master in junior high before we’re allowed to graduate to high school. It isn’t even one we have to prove we’ve mastered before we graduate college and head into the world of grown-up issues and challenges. It is a lesson we face over and over, throughout our lives, sometimes even years after we’ve thought we’ve mastered it. And the lesson here is this: not only are you worthy of deep love and respect, but also, if you don’t receive the love and respect you are worth from the person you are extending your own love and respect to, you need to move on.
Your boyfriend is not valuing your worth. He is not respecting you. He is not acting in a loving way. He is being selfish and unkind. And you are enabling this behavior. You are essentially giving him permission to treat you like you don’t matter. Like you aren’t worth more than the value he’s placed on you. But understand this: He doesn’t get to determine your value. He doesn’t! You do. You determine your worth. And you do that by not allowing people — anyone–your boyfriend, your friends, a boss, anyone — to treat you like you don’t matter. Or like you’re disposable.
When your boyfriend tells you he’s “confused,” what I believe he means is that he’s confused that you keep allowing him to undermine your worth. He knows you matter more than how his treatment of you would indicate. And he’s confused that you haven’t put a stop to his treatment. But he also knows that, as long as you continue allowing him to be selfish, he’s going to be. Because he values his time and his interests more than he values you. And that’s just the truth of it. He wants to use you for what you can give him — occasional companionship and sex — without the responsibility and selflessness of considering and addressing your needs. So he says he “doesn’t want labels” and he “needs to find himself” — code for “I don’t want to give the effort you are worth” — and he keeps you at arm’s length not because you don’t move him or because you aren’t worthy or even because he’s a bad person. He’s just lazy. And you’ve made it easy for him to be lazy. And maybe he doesn’t love you enough to stop being lazy and start putting in some effort.
But, please, don’t let the amount of love someone has for you or the amount of effort someone is willing to invest in making you happy or making your relationship work determine the value you set for yourself. YOU determine your value, and that value is eventually going to attract someone (or someones, plural, over the course of your life) to invest and to show you they agree with what you know and say you’re worth. And when you find someone whose self-worth is attractive to you, too, and you enjoy each other’s company and you’re attracted to each other and you treat one another with love and respect, that is a wonderful thing. Fortunately, that, too, is a lesson we get to learn at any age. Often, more than once.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.